Serving as a mentor for someone brings with it much responsibility and pride. The former is true because you fill a much-needed position in the lives and careers of those whom you mentor, and the latter is true because you attain a position from which you assist others by drawing on your own experience and hindsight.
It’s quite common for people who don the mentor cap to initially make the mistake of becoming involved emotionally with their protégés’ success. Unfortunately, this is one of the most detrimental things a mentor can do. Although it sounds contradictory, mentoring successfully is first and foremost about detached involvement. The following guidelines can help you succeed in making this detached involvement work for both you and your protégé.
As a mentor, your primary responsibility is to build confidence in those whom you mentor. In addition to helping your mentees fully realize their weaknesses and strengths, you also have the responsibility of helping them learn how to minimize their weaknesses while maximizing their strengths. You may be tempted to be too hands-on or “spoon-feed” your protégés because of your personal knowledge and experience, but when you do so you defeat the primary purpose of mentoring. Instead, encourage your mentees to work toward finding solutions to their issues by gently guiding them to discover the right direction rather than shoving them forward.
Many people learn best from their mistakes, since experiencing these mistakes forces them to “own” them. It’s likely that you yourself have made a mistake and then walked away from the situation or issue knowing whole-heartedly that you will never find yourself in that position again because you learned how to stay out of it and why you don’t want to be in it. Create an environment in which your protégés can make mistakes as well so they can grow and learn from those experiences. You needn’t share your own personal experiences with them, but you do need to encourage them to own their decisions whether they follow your advice or not.
Because everyone experiences difficulties or rough patches in life, it is your responsibility in part as a mentor to help your protégés remain upbeat and motivated when they have such experiences. But this isn’t all about what you do actively (give pep talks, share your own experiences, suggest ways to deal with an issue); rather, it’s also about what you do passively—which is to listen patiently and provide a comfortable environment in which they can share without fear or judgment.
Good mentors possess a great deal of humility. Remember that while your protégés might be inexperienced or young, they might also have fresh ideas or insights about their own lives. As a mentor, part of your job is to listen to them with an open mind while respecting their opinions and views. This, in turn, can help them build confidence.
Few things are as fulfilling as watching a seed you have planted bloom into a gorgeous flower. Mentoring works the same way, because as you watch your protégés grow you will be filled with a sense of pride and personal achievement. And that, my friends, is the real joy of mentoring!
Until next time, embrace your inner wisdom.